What is Concord/Subject-verb agreement?
Concord means a harmonious relationship between two grammatical items of all the types of concord the most important is the concord of number and person between the subject and the verb.
In English the concord system is simple. In some languages, for example, Hind and Urdu, a verb has not only to agree with the number and person of the subject but also with the gender. In English, a verb is not affected by the gender system ar all because it has the same form for both masculine and feminine subjects. Further, subject-verb concord in English is restricted to simple present tense.
In Hindi and Urdu, a verb has very often to agree with the number and gender of the object as well. In English, there is nothing like object-verb concord.
Concord of Number
A singular subject takes a singular verb. A plural subject takes a plural verb. In short, a verb is in the same number as its subject. It is called grammatical.
- The teacher writes on the blackboard.
- The child plays on the lawns.
- The teachers write on the blackboard.
- The children play on the lawns.
Concord of Person
First-person (singular/plural) takes a plural verb.
I/We like this book
Second person (singular/plural) takes a plural verb.
You/You all like this book.
Third person (plural) takes a plural verb.
They like this book
Third person (singular) takes a singular verb.
He/She likes this book
In short, the singular form of a verb is only for the third person singular and the plural form for the rest.
Exceptions to Grammatical Concord
Concord of number/person in past/future tense
The past forms of verbs (except verb be) are invariable. There is no visible concord of number/person between the subject and the verb:
- You/They/We went home after the party.
- He/She went home after the party. (Verb ‘to go’)
- You/They/We were watching a match on TV yesterday.
- He/She/l was watching a match on TV yesterday. (Verb ‘to be”)
Modal auxiliaries don’t show number and person concord because their forms are invariable in all tenses:
- I/we//you/they/he/she can do this sum.
- V/we/you/they/he/she/ will go home tomorrow.
Marginal auxiliaries/semi-modal auxiliaries need and dare in the negative form, and used to don’t have number and person concord:
- 1. He/They need not work hard.
- 2. He/They dare not oppose me.
I/we/he/she used to play tennis at school.
Note: need and dare in the affirmative do have number and person concord:
- we need to work hard.
- He needs to work hard.
Adverb clause of improbable condition
A singular subjectakes a plural verb were in a clause expressing an improbable
- If I were you I wouldn’t do it.
- If Ravi were a millionaire, he would donate a hefty sum to the hospital.
Adverb clause of manner (as it/as though)
A singular subject usually takes a plural verb were in a clause expressing manner
(as it/as though + clause):
- She memories all her lessons as if she were a computer.
- He commands me as if he were my boss.
Unfulfilled wish in present future
A singular subject takes a plural verb were in a clause expressing an unfulfilled
- I wish I were a millionaire.
- Were I a king I would live a life of ease.
Concord System in Different Constructions
The principle of grammatical concord states that the subject must agree with the verb. When the subject is a complex noun phrase, it is the number of the head noun of the noun phrase that determines the form of the verb:
- The teachers of this school know me. (teachers)
- The mangoes on the tree are ripe. (mangoes)
- The milk in the bottles is fresh, (milk)
- The price of essential articles in all the states has shot up. (price)
- The rays of the sun at noon in all parts of India are very bright. (rays)
Note: a) Care must be taken in determining the head word of the subject. Asking who what to the verb will usually help identify the head of the subject phrase. b) Even when there is a reversal of the subject to the postverbal position, the subject determines concord:
- Sweet are the uses of adversity. (not, is)
Indefinite number/quantity + of + noun
in this construction, indefinite number/quantity + of forms a single unit to denote number/quantity. It is used as a substitute for many/much/some:
a number of ,most of,a good/great deal of ,much/some/all/none of, a lot of, lots of, a part of, rest of, a couple of
a handful of,
In this construction the noun/pronoun placed after of functions as a subject, so a singular noun/pronoun takes a singular verb, but a plural noun takes a plural
- Plenty of milk is required in summer.
- Plenty of eggs are required next week.
- Half of his house was burnt.
- Half of the houses were burnt.
Note: A concord is called Notional Concord when it depends on the notion/ sense expressed by indefinite number/quantity + of. When indefinite number/quantity + of is singular in sense it goes with a singular verb but when it is plural in sense it goes with a plural verb:
- A number of teachers are absent today.
- A lot of books are lying around.
- Lots of food has been wasted.
- Lots of girls have short hair.
Note: a number of + plural noun takes a plural verb because it means
- A number of books have been bought for our library.
- the number of + plural noun takes a singular verb because ‘number’
- denotes a mathematical figure which is a singular noun:
- The number of honest people is decreasing.
lots of can take a singular or plural verb:
- Lots of people are still poor.
- Lots of petrol has been wasted.
lots + infinitive takes a singular verb because it is a substitute for
- There is still lots to do.
- There is lots to be said on this subject.
This/That + kind of/sort of /Type of + noun
In this construction, kind of/sort of/type of is treated as a single unit.
- This kind of food is harmful.
- Food like this is harmful.
In sentences like these the verb agrees in number with the noun placed alter of because that is treated as the head of the whole phrase:
This/that kind of climate does not agree with me. (climate)
This/that sort of behaviour is in bad taste. (behaviour)
These/those kinds of people are unreliable. (people)
Note: these/those + kind of/sort of/type of + noun
In this construction, too, the verb agrees with the noun placed after of, not with the singular noun before it:
- These kind of friends are not faithful.
- Those sort of medicines are harmful.
However, this construction is permissible only in a colloquial style, not in written English because of the conflict here, i.e., lack of concord in number between the plural demonstrative and the singular head.
Collective noun + of + plural noun
In this construction, a singular collective noun + of + noun is used as a unit to denote a single undivided group of people or things:
- a batch of
- a bunch of
- a band of
- a chain of
- a class of
- a crowd of
- a fleet
- à gang of
- a galaxy of
- a group of
- a herd/a flock of
- a pack/packet of
- a set of
- a series of
- a team of
In sentences like these the verb is singular because the number of the verb is determined by the singular collective noun, and not by the plural noun placed after of.
- A bunch of keys/grapes is lying on the table.
- A team of speakers has been selected.
A collective noun can take a singular or plural verb. It takes a singular verb when it denotes the group as a single whole, i.e. people or things taken together:
- The jury has found him guilty.
- The government has decided to levy fresh taxes.
It all depends on the point of view of a speaker or writer whether a collective noun is treated as singular or plural. The choice of pronouns also has to be consistent:
The government has changed its policy towards its neighbouring countries.
- The government have changed their policy towards their neighboring countries.
Both are equally acceptable.
A vacillation between singular and plural results in unacceptable sentences like the following:
- The government has changed their policy towards its neighbouring countries.
- The jury are divided in its opinions.
Note: a) collective noun + possessive adjective + noun
In current English, a plural verb for a collective noun is preferred when it is used with a possessive adjective + noun:
- The federation of teachers are agitating for the fulfilment of their demands
- The students* union have called off their strike in their own interest.
Name of the team
In the world of games and sports the name of a state/country/institution denotes a team. It is usually considered a plural collective noun, so it takes a plural verb:
- India have won the match by three goals to one. (not has)
- England have piled up five hundred runs.
- Australia have lost the Test Match by six wickets.
Capital city/seat of power
The name of a capital city/seat of political power is treated as a singular
collective noun; it is used with a singular verb:
- The Kremlin has decided to encourage private enterprise.
- The White House is going to review the bill.
A noun (singular or plural) denoting weights/measures/amount/quantity/distance
etc, takes a singular vert:
- Five miles/kilometregis a long way to walk.
- Seven thousand rupees has been paid to him.
- Ten litres of petrol is required for my journey.
A noun (singular or plural) denoting the name of a place/institution or the title of
a book takes a singular verb:
- Jaipur is a popular tourist destination.
- The Arabian Nights ts still very popular.
A few nouns always go in pairs, so they are called ‘inseparables’: scissors, shears, trousers, pliers
Since they are undoubtedly plural they take a plural verb. However, when preceded
by ‘a pair of’, they take a singular verb:
- Trousers are very comfortable in cold countries.
- but, A pair of trousers is required for my cousin.
Distributive pronouns (each/either/neither) are always singular whether or not they are followed by of + plural noun; so they go with singular verbs:
- There are two girls here. Neither is tall. (not are)
- There are several theories about the origin of language. Each one of them is defective. (not are)
Note: plural subject + each
In this construction, a plural subject takes a plural verb because each is used only in apposition to a plural noun. It can’t make a plural subject singular:
- We each want to be happy. (not wants)
- They each are facing problems. (not is)
Singular indefinite go with a singular verb:
- One has to take care of one’s health.
- No one has reached yet.
- Everyone likes to watch TV.
- Not all is well now.
Plural indefinite go with a plural verb:
- Many were injured in the accident.
- Only a few were selected.
Indefinites + of + plural noun/pronoun
In this construction, too, a singular indefinite pronoun goes with a singular verb
- Every one of the girls/them is tall. (not are)
- Each one of us wants to live long. (not want)
Principle of proximity/attraction
The principle of proximity/attraction allows concord to be decided by the word placed nearest to the verb, and not by the ‘real’ subject.
- Everyone of these girls are married.
- Neither of the two girls are married.
The principle of proximity/attraction is often invoked to justify the use of a plural verb in this construction. Traditional grammar demands a singular verb here. A plural verb is permissible only in colloquial style.
all When all means ‘everything’ it takes a singular verb, but when it refers to a plural noun, it takes a plural verb:
- All is not lost yet. (not are)
- There are ten girls here. All are tall. (not is)
When none refers to a plural noun/pronoun it optionally takes a
- I have invited all my friends to tea. But none have/has arrived yet.
- He has a number of friends. But none are/ is faithful.
none * of + plural noun/pronoun
In this construction, none can go with a singular or plural verb:
- None of them is/are present here.
- I would say that none of the novels of Chatterjee is outstanding.
The current trend is to prefer a plural verb.
not one/no one of + plural noun/pronoun
In this construction the verb is always singular because not one/no one is indisputably singular:
- Not one/no one of the pupils has answered this question correctly. (not have)
some and any
When some/any refers to a singular uncountable noun it takes a singular verb:
- Some of the food has been wasted.
- Some of the ink has spilt on the table.
- Is there any hope now? No, there isn’t any. (hope)
- Is there any milk in the bottle? No, there isn’t any. (milk)
When it refers to a plural noun it takes a plural verb
- Some of the boys are dull.
- Some of the eggs are rotten.
- Are there any girls in your class? No, there aren’t any. (girls)
- Are there any snakes in the garden? No, there aren’t any. (snakes)
much/more/little/a lot/a good deal etc
When more refers to a singular noun it takes a singular verb. When more refers to a plural noun, the verb is accordingly plural:
- She has bought plenty of milk but a little more is still required.
- I have bought plenty of eggs but a few more are still required.
much/little denotes quantity, so it takes a singular verb:
- Not much has been written on the subject.
- Little has been done so far.
a lot/a good deal etc. denoting quantity takes a singular verb:
- A lot is taught today but little is learnt.
A relative pronoun as subject takes a singular verb when the antecedent is singular but it takes a plural verb when the antecedent is plural:
- I have read the book that is on the table.
- I haven’t read the books that are on the shelf.
- God helps those who help themselves.
One of + plural noun/pronoun (antecedent) + relative pronoun
In this construction the antecedent is always plural so the relative pronoun
takes a plural verb:
- He is one of those who do what they say.
- She is one of the women who have sacrificed everything for their children.
It is + noun/pronoun (antecedent) + relative pronoun
In this construction, the antecedent is the noun/pronoun placed after the verb be. The antecedent is not it. So the relative pronoun agrees in the number person with the noun or pronoun, not with the empty It.
- It is / who have made this film.
- It is he who has stolen my watch.
- It is they who create all kinds of problems.
Note: antecedent + and/or + antecedent + relative clause
When antecedents (singular or plural) are joined by and, the relative pronoun takes a plural verb because the antecedent is plural.
- The boy and the girl have got married against their parents’ wishes.
But when the antecedents are separated by or, the relative pronoun
agrees with the one nearest to it:
- Literature or fine arts, which are essential for the development of the mind, must be taught at school.
Subject + verb be + complement
The verb be agrees in number with the subject, not with the complement:
- Our only guide was the stars.
- The stars were our only guide.
In this construction a complement (singular or plural) has no say in influencing
concord. So we don’t say:
- The wealth of a nation are the people.
It + be + noun/ pronoun
In this construction the subject is it, so the verb is always singular is/was, and
- It’s me/him.
- It’s they who tall a lot but do nothing.
- It was you who created the problem.
Subject + noun/pronoun in apposition
In this construction the verb agrees with the subject, and not with the noun pronoun used in apposition to the subject:
- I, a student, am in urgent need of your help. (not, is)
- You, a literary critic, have failed to appreciate modern poetry. (not, has)
The + adjective
When the + adjective denotes a plural noun it takes a plural verb:
- The rich are not necessarily happy.
- The blind need help.
Note: Such adjectives don’t form their plural by adding s/es. But black and white take an to denote people, so the blacks/the whites always take a plural verb. They are singular in form but plural in sense.
When the + adjective denotes a quality or substance, it takes a singular verb:
- The white of an egg is good for health.
More than one + singular noun more than one + noun takes a singular noun and a singular verb:
- More than one man was killed in the accident.
- More than one scholar has been honoured this year.
(not, More than one boys are absent.)
More + plural noun + than one
In this construction, more takes a plural noun, so a plural verb is required:
More proposals than one have been forwarded. (not, has been)
Many a/an + noun
Many a/an has a plural meaning, but it modifies a singular noun, and therefore
it goes with a singular verb:
- Many a man was injured.
- Many an egg is rotten.
Two singular nouns joined by and form a pair and denote a singular object or concept. When used as subjects they are called parcel subjects. They always take a singular verb:
- Bread and butter is a good breakfast.
- Fish and chips is my favourite dish.
Slow and steady wins the race, But a parcel subject takes a plural verb when the complement is plural:
Food and shelter are the bare necessities of life
Other kinds of singular nouns
Singular nouns joined by and, but modified by nodeach/every take a singuld
- No teacher and no student is present here.
- Every Tom, Dick, and Harry makes speeches but does nothing.
Numerals pined by and plus denote a single arithmetic unit so it has singular verb
- Two and two makes/ts four
- Two plus two is four
But numerals that are treated as mere numerals, not as an arithmetical expression do take a plural verb when they are joined by and. It is equivalent to noun + and + noun:
- Three and thirteen are believed to be unlucky numbers.
As well as, etc.
In this construction the subject is the noun that precedes the connectives such
as as well as, like, with etc:
- He as well as I is fond of fish.
- The robber with all his associates was arrested.
- She, like her parents, is a miser.
These connectives behave like separators because they are placed between two nouns/pronouns to separate them, not coordinate them, so a noun/pronoun placed after as well as etc. does not affect the verb.
As well as is normally used to join two subjects of the same number and person:
- He as well she is intelligent.
- You as well as they are intelligent.
The verb agrees with the first subject when the two subjects are of different numbers and person:
- He as well as I is innocent.
- You as well as he are innocent.
This construction is pedantic and artificial and is not to be used in common speech. Instead one may shift the as well as part to the end:
- She as well as I likes fish.
- She likes fish/as well as I (do).
Another device to avoid a cumbersome construction is to replace as well as by so, usually preferred in speech:
- He as well as I is innocent.
- He is innocent, and so am I
Not only … but also
When subjects are joined by not only but also, the verb agrees with the last, that is, with the subject nearest to it.
- Not only India but all the countries are in trouble.
- Not only her books but her watch also was stolen.
In this construction the plural subject is usually placed last:
- Not only her purse but also her rings are missing.
Nothing but + noun
The subject of a sentence like this is nothing, and not the noun placed alter but so it always takes a singular verb whether the latter noun is singular or plura
- There is nothing but sand in a desert.
- Nothing but unfulfilled promises is what this administration has given us
Either … or/neither. .. nor
In this construction, singular subjects of the third person take a singular verb, i.e., when both the conjuncts are singular:
- Either Sujatha or Elsie has broken my watch.
- Neither Kamal nor Rupa is ready yet.
Current English requires a singular verb here because subjects are separated, not coordinated by either.. or/neither.. nor.
With plural conjuncts the verb is naturally plural:
- Neither men nor women like this film.
- Either teachers or parents are to blame.
With subjects of different number and person, the verb agrees with subject nearest to it:
- One or two books are still missing.
- Neither the host nor his servants were present.
- Either he or I have to suffer.
Notice that the principle of proximity is at work here.
Note: In sentences like these the plural subject is placed nearest to the verb:
He or his friends have stolen my watch.
But in a question, a singular subject is usually placed nearest o the wet
(This is a result of subject-auxiliary inversion in questions):
- Has he or his friends stolen my watch?
There + verb + noun/pronoun
In there constructions, the verb agrees with the real subject, ie. with the noun pronoun placed after it; there is only a dummy subject:
- There is a party tonight.
- There are a number of meetings tomorrow.
- There seems no reason to question his honesty.
Than + elliptical comparative clause
- He always uses more words than are necessary.
- She carries with her more money than is safe to do.